Matthew 16:24 “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
I was hanging out with some brothers this week and we were talking about our journeys. Each man had a different story, no two were alike. There were details that many could relate to, stories of homelessness or substance abuse, others had been through programs to clean up their lives, some had suffered abuse, many were familiar with depression and suicide, and all the while you could hear a resounding theme.
With each burden and failure came a subsequent measure of growth and understanding. Even though the failures seemed to outweigh the successes, the common thread was each had continued to return to the cross.
When Jesus instructed His disciples on what it looks like to follow after Him, He spoke prophetically of the death He was soon to encounter.
Matthew 16:25 “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
How do you lose your life when there is still breath in your lungs?
The paradox of the cross is the life we gain through loss.
What do we hold onto that has more value than eternal life? What do we think we will gain from this world? These types of questions are contemplative and yet require some perspective.
Struggling through the ravages of sin are sometimes necessary in recognizing the lies of this world. I don’t encourage anyone to find their way through failure but in our stubbornness and self-determination we often fail to listen to good counsel.
Matthew 16:26 “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
The question Jesus poses is one that is universal. It doesn’t matter what part of the world you come from, what era you were born, or how much success or failure you’ve had in this world. For many, they have achieved great heights from a worldly standpoint, and from history we can see how fulfilling those achievements really are.
Famous comedian and actor Robin Williams committed suicide on August 11, 2014, his net worth at the time was 50 million dollars. Nobel prize winning novelist Ernest Hemingway committed suicide on July 2, 1961. Many highly successful people such as Cleopatra queen of Egypt, artist Vincent Van Gogh, writer Virginia Woolf and many others found incredible success and it was never enough.
What the world claims as a success can be a tragic loss.
You can either choose to live for yourself, live to please the world, or on the other end of the spectrum, live for Christ.
Matthew 16:27 “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”
What we do in this life matters into eternity.
When Jesus gave His life upon the cross, He bore a weight that no one else could bear. The tragedy of the cross became a triumph for mankind. What Satan meant for evil, God meant for good. We have been given a reprieve from the sentence of death by accepting the grace of God in Christ. When Jesus took perfection to the cross, He did so as fully God and fully man. He had to take our form to become the perfect sacrifice for our sin. Only He could do it, because only He was capable of performing the greatest act in the history of the world.
Now, Jesus is telling us to take up our cross and follow Him.
Just like Jesus was the only One who could bear His cross, we are the only ones who can bear our own crosses as well.
No one can die upon another’s cross. Each path we live, we live before God that is unique to us. Every decision you’ve made are decisions that you will either receive reward for or be judged. We have a very bad habit of blaming others for our failures. We can either take responsibility for our lives or live in perpetual denial.
Your cross is yours to bear—no one else can do that for you. Dying to self is not only dying to sin, but it is living for God. Our successes can turn into boasting if our focus is on the flesh.
Galatians 6:14 “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
Our success as christians is found in what Jesus did for us, not in what we have attained on our own.
Slaying our evil Nature
If we are going to take up our cross, we have to lay something else down….namely our lives.
Laying down your life is a way of saying your not going to hold onto your old ways. The way you lived, specifically how you lived your life before has to die. The way you used to talk, the people who hung out with, the things you practiced, and what you placed your time and energy into must be given over to Jesus.
This isn’t to say that everything you did before Christ was evil. You may have liked to paint or play a pick up game of basketball on Saturday morning. The difference between then and now is your motivation. Before you may have painted to gain recognition or acclaim, or maybe to find peace, now you paint to glorify Christ. Before you may have not cared whether you lost your temper playing ball or cussed when angry, now you strive to honor Christ before those who you compete with, hopefully glorifying God in the process.
Laying down your cross is a process of aligning your priorities with God’s priorities. He does the leading in the course of our lives, we love Him and so our actions are tailored to show Him love practically. We care about others and so our hope is shifted from being concerned only about ourselves to others who we might not even know.
Learning to walk in the Spirit is vital for the one who desires to take up their cross and follow Him.
Galatians 5:16-18 “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
Taking up your cross is a voluntary act of service unto God.
The Lord doesn’t force you into following Him, but if you want to go along His path it requires dying to your old nature. Don’t let the prospect of the journey overwhelm you, the process of dying is a step by step path of obedience. The Spirit of God will show you each part that He wants you to submit to Him, if you get to a point of refusal, you’ll find your growth stunted by your disobedience.
“The difference between great sainthood or spiritual mediocrity depends on which choice (you) make”A.W. Tozer
If you truly want freedom in Christ, the path of the cross is required. The prospect of dying to self isn’t easy but what you gain has far more value.